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The Sixties: De-tripping, Yeah

Still from Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.

I had intentions of watching Quentin Tarantino’s new film, Once Upon A Time … in Hollywood, and then writing a review, keened up, like most of his aficionados, with the anticipation it might be his last film, and eager to see how QT handled the Sixties, with limited retrospection, given that he was only six years old at the time of the events depicted. But I was disappointed by his “take” on the era, and I don’t quite know why. Afterall, he hadn’t even been born when the events of Inglorious Basterds were set, and that turned out just fine — the edgy Hester Prynne engravings and the gorgeous, ravenous flame-licking fires. I never had so much fun watching Evil perish. We all did. But this was different.

I could say it was the ending, how I was tired of a certain trademark same-same (I’ll leave it at that), but that’s not it. It wasn’t the dialogue, or that Charlie Manson only made a strumming cameo, or that there were no signature pocket watch scenes. The acting was fine; I liked the story; and the frisson of the zeitgeist was well-achieved. But I started to get bummed out at the Dumpster scene, how Tarantino handled it — a throw-away scene gratuitously inserted like the black cat in Zero Dark Thirty. There was a whole counterculture Tarantino left behind in that Dumpster. And I started to worry about what he might do to the beloved Star Trek movie he’s rumored to be directing next.

The Dumpster scene reminded me of Abbie Hoffman and Steal This Book, his handbook that lists the myriad freebies available if you need (or want) to survive on the street — “free” food, housing, and transportation are featured, as well as handy tips for living the revolution-for-the-hell-of-it lifestyle. Nostalgia kicked in. The rambunctious war years, of course, but also the Chicago 8 that became the Chicago 7 after a gagged and bound Bobby Seale (he was Black, you see) was taken away for a separate (but equal) trial. Another fun, connect-the-dots fact that came up was the coincidence of Abbie having the same name as Albert Hofman, inventor of LSD, and Julius Hoffman, his trial judge. It came together quite cosmically, if you were tripping.

Everybody knows now that it was an era of Free-Lovin.’ And great music, too, with Jimi and Janis (RIP) for starters, and no need for Madonna’s ironical virginity or Cyley Mirus’ leather-tight twerks. We suspected we had the Deep State on the run, with our love, but our criminal naivete was then just a misdemeanor. We were sure we could break free of our psychic bonds and and and self-actualize. Communes filled with Marxist banter, primal screams (Imagine that), and an environment of Infinite Love that made you feel like you were, together, taking back the night from Das Kapital.

Then bad acid, man, began hitting the freedom streets I recall, and a hard, hard rain began to fall, and I mean fall. I seem to remember race riots, Jane Fonda in a tank top, someone crying out ‘You don’t need to be a Weatherman to blow yourself up.’ And Abbie’s DNC riots seemed to get Dick Nixon elected. And the war went on and on. And the Yippies had a falling out with The Man and with each other. The Beatles called it quits, Dylan was in hiding. Bummer days.

And conspiracy rumors were already orbiting that Stanley Kubrick had been hired by the US government to stage the whole moon-landing (which I watched live at a Catholic kumbaya summer camp, drinking ‘bug juice’ and eating cookies, in a kind of junior transubstantiation). And every Lefty agreed that Woodstock was a disaster (and still is) — if for no other reason than that Jimi’s rendition of the Star Spangled Banner, an otherwise horrible song, wasn’t made the song’s national exclusive version.

Next thing we knew we were in the Seventies, Kent State, Patty Hearst. Watergate, and we were beginning to ask ourselves if our precious, exceptional Democracy was in danger. After Nixon dicked out of town, a mood shift developed; Carter came in, people wanted peace — even the Middle-easters — and few people wanted to continue the struggles requisite of a healthy democracy. They wanted love, but not a free love; it now had the tinge of sadness and weary resignation and military build-up. Halliburton got busy with Marshall plans of the future. Never boring, always surprising. People began to get mowed by gun violence Left and Right, and even when Senators got mowed down, they were afraid of getting eaten alive by the gun lobby and stayed silent.

We are a long way from the heady days of muckraking journalism — sure-sounding pilots Alexander Cockburn (Beat the Devil), Sy Hersh (still at it), Hunter S (Gonzo has left the building)., Jack Anderson (enemy of the state), etc, navigating the always-muddy, ever-changing river — and have settled into a stenographic, profit-driven MSM that fails to inform us properly, resulting in an often-laughable media today that Donald Trump sadly and sometimes-rightly refers to as “fake news.” The hypothesized media influence of the Russians in the 2016 presidential perhaps made ‘plausible’ by the Fourth Estate’s dereliction of duty in the World’s Premiere Democracy™.

It’s easy to be discouraged today, given the state of the Executive, Legislative and Judicial branches, moving rightward and surely fascist — or far worse. Another round of Trump from 20/20 should bring us the epiphanal vision we need. It’s easy to feel with Leonard Cohen, “It’s over, it ain’t going / Any further.” In the post-post-modern near future, with a new Cold War coming ironically as the Ice caps melt, it’s easy to feel our species has gone too far, catastrophic victims of a pandemic leached into our collective consciousness — just in time for the AI revolution.

Well, maybe what Lebowski told Lebowski was true: the Bums lost, the revolution for-the-hell-of-it is over. Time, as Bobby Dylan says, to Ring Them Bells for all of us who are Left. Head for the hall of the Big Sleep, exhausted, like Edward G. near the end of Soylent Green, time to exit to Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony. Oddly and inconveniently thinking of something Timothy Leary once said in Steal This Dream of Abraham Maslow: “[He] was a very influential transitional person between medical psychiatry and humanist inner-potential, do-it-yourself psychiatry. The paradox was, as everybody knows, that Abe himself was a very depressed person. Abe told me once he never had a peak experience.” Ain’t that a kick in the head. Time to let it go once last time, guided by the better angels of my nature. You almost had to drop acid to be there. And not there.

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John Kendall Hawkins is an American ex-pat freelancer based in Australia.  He is a former reporter for The New Bedford Standard-Times.

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